SSM Health Medical Minute: The importance of getting a second opinion

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The American Heart Association suggests people inquire about a second opinion if they are told they need heart surgery. People have little hesitation to get a second opinion about their car, house or when making a large purchase, but with their health we often just rely on what a single physician tells us. The AHA recommends it because other options may exist and the best way to do it is to get other physician opinions.

Dr. Richard Lee, SLUCare Cardiac Surgeon at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital, says patients in emergency situations where time is a major factor such as a heart attack, don’t have a choice. But if you have the ability to seek an additional opinion, you should. He encourages patients to ask their physician specific questions such as “Who would you go to with this problem?” Patients can often feel as though getting a second opinion might hurt the feelings of the doctor they are currently with.

In fact, he says, most physicians encourage second and even third opinions, especially when it involves a major operation such as heart valve replacement.

Why seek a second opinion?

Perhaps you’re not feeling confident about your doctor’s decisions. Maybe you’re feeling rushed. Other reasons to get a second opinion include:

Your insurance company may require it before covering your treatment.

You may have options — including not needing the medicine or procedure, or one being less expensive than another.

You’re concerned about the risk or how it might affect your lifestyle, family or work.

How do I seek a second opinion?

Start with your doctor for a recommendation

For second or third doctors or specialists, you can also:

Ask family or friends who’ve been treated with the same condition.

Get a list of approved doctors from your insurance company or your employer’s health plan administrator.

Contact your local medical society.

Look in the American Medical Directory, the Directory of American Specialists, or other professional directories at your local library.

What do I do to seek a second opinion?

Before you visit a second doctor, have your records forwarded to him or her. Better yet, get a full set and bring them with you.

Also, be sure to come with specific questions. “The more specific your questions, the more focused your meeting, the better the second opinion will be,” says Stein, who is also a volunteer for the American Heart Association.

You should also bring a pad and pen to write down important things, and consider having a significant other to sit and listen (and not talk).

When you’re done, ask the second doctor to send his notes to you and your doctor.

For more information on getting a second opinion, click here.

For more information on heart surgery, visit

The SSM Health Medical Minute airs every Thursday at 7 PM on KPLR News 11 and at 9 PM on KTVI Fox 2 News.​